Out A Living
By Nhem Chea Bunly
The Cambodia Daily
kandieng district, Pursat province - From the moment one leaves Pursat
town and crosses the wooden bridge over Pursat river, a rattling sound,
“pe pok, pe pok,” fills the air.
The sculptors of Banteay Dey and Bandos Sandek villages are hard at work,
chiseling marble into animal figurines and Buddha statues that will fill
orders or sell in local shops. In both villages marble carving is a family
Pok Sao, 52, who learned from Master Hem Heng in the late 1960s, now trains
his 16-year-old son Pok Sophal. The sculptor, who has six children to
support, said he makes approximately $200 per month from his work.
Pen Sarath, an 18-year-old student who learned sculpture from a neighbor in
1998, said he carves elephants and lions in his free time to pay for his
The carving techniques have been passed on for generations in Pursat
province, said Kong Ty, a Banteay Dey sculptor.
“I learned sculpture and painting from Master Suon Chem at the pagoda in
the late 1960s,” said the 53-year-old man.
The marble comes from remote quarries in the Cardamom Mountains, about 120
km from Pursat town, and with no road to speak of, marble must be brought
back by tractor or buffalo carts, said Keo Rithy, owner of the Marble
This is an improvement, Kong Ty added. It used to take three months by
Since the block of marble will determine the size and shape of the statue to
be carved, it has to be selected and extracted from the quarry with care and
precision, said Keo Rithy.
Hun Sophin, owner of the Pursat Province Marble Sculpture shop in Banteay
Dey, said she started carving marble 13 years ago. Today, she has eight
sculptors and several trainees working for her.
“We make a decent living, but not a great deal of profit. As artists, we
care more about the quality of our work and our reputation,” she said.
The marble quarries are government property and people extracting stone must
pay a royalty to the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said Mao San,
director of the ministry’s provincial office in Pursat.
Rates per block of marble vary according to size—$30 for a 30-by-30-cm
block, $50 for up to 50 cm, and $80 for larger ones, he said.
For ministry employees to get to quarries of good-quality marble, it takes
two days to cross numerous mountains by truck or tractor, Mao San said.
“We also try to make people understand the value of marble, enlist them in
preserving it and not using gun powder to extract it,” Mao San said.
Sculptors in Pursat have accumulated a wealth of traditional skills and work
with marble of diverse colors, said Mao Sorphorn, provincial director for
the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
“We would like to open a sculpture school in Pursat, and bring in the best
professors to teach the basics of sculpting, as well as pre-Angkorian,
Angkorian and post-Angkorian styles. Unfortunately, we don’t have the
budget for this,” he said.